Doctor's Orders: Coronavirus & COVID-19 FAQ's
Updated: Jun 2, 2020
It is clear that the #COVID-19 #pandemic has changed everything. Every corner of the world is affected, and all of mankind is adapting to new social, political, and economic policies designed to minimize the impact of this new virus. As we struggle with the mounting anxiety and fear that follows bad news, the best thing we can do is try to stay informed. Information shines a light into the darkness of the unknown. While it doesn’t fix the problem on its own, it is essential to staying safe and reducing the spread of the disease. This is a global problem, and everybody can (and should!) do something.
As a #physician involved in the treatment of patients with COVID-19, I have been consuming information on the novel coronavirus and fielding a lot of questions from friends, family, and patients. What follows are the most common questions I have seen, with answers as honest and accurate I can provide.
What is coronavirus/SARS-CoV-2/COVID-19?
#Coronavirus is a family of viruses that also includes the #SARS virus that arose in 2003 and the #MERS in 2012. SARS-CoV-2 is the scientific name for the virus causing the present pandemic; it stands for “severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2” and causes the disease COVID-19 (similar to how the HIV virus causes the AIDS disease).
Where did it come from?
The SARS-CoV-2 virus originated in #China, the site of many novel viruses in the past several decades, due to the proximity of animals and humans in everyday life. It is believed that this new virus originated in bats or pangolins and transferred to humans through another animal or on its own (similar to how the HIV virus originated in chimpanzees).
Why is it so dangerous?
This virus is unique for its long incubation period and potentially severe disease. Some patients do not show symptoms until almost two weeks after contracting the virus, and others have no symptoms at all. Meanwhile, the virus can spread from person to person through very small droplets that are inhaled or ingested. This means that people can very easily transmit the virus to others without even knowing they are infected. This “asymptomatic carrier” transmission is responsible for the majority of new cases in the world. Meanwhile, although over 80% of those who contract the virus will never need to stay in the hospital, the remaining patients can develop a severe or even critical illness that requires prolonged hospitalization and can be fatal.
Who is most at risk?
COVID-19 affects the lungs - causing #pneumonitis (fluid and inflammation of the lung tissue) and making it hard for patients to breathe and get oxygen into their blood. Thus, patients with poor lung function, such as the #elderly, #smokers, or those with #obesity or #COPD are especially at risk. Patients with #diabetes and #heart_disease as well as those with conditions that affect the immune system have a prolonged recovery time and are at greater risk for severe illness.
How is it treated?
Patients who test positive for the virus and who are healthy enough to self #quarantine at home should do so. Those with are high risk, have a fever, shortness of breath, or low blood oxygen are usually admitted to a hospital where they receive supplemental oxygen and medical therapy. Those who progress to a critical illness and cannot breathe on their own are sedated and placed on a #ventilator - a machine that circulates air and provides oxygen to the patient at pressures that can overcome the inflammation and fluid produced by the disease. Most patients who need a ventilator, however, can be on them for weeks, leaving them vulnerable to infections and malnutrition.
Can I take #ibuprofen?
There have been some rumors that taking ibuprofen (Motrin, Advil) or other related medications can cause people to develop COVID-19. There is no evidence that this is true, but early research into how the virus infects cells shows that these medications may make it easier for the virus to spread. While ibuprofen in asymptomatic people is still safe, giving these medications to patients with symptoms of suspected exposure is being avoided as a precaution.
Pregnancy does decrease the mother’s immune system, and infants have a limited immunity because they have not yet been exposed to most germs. However, they do not seem to be at an increased risk of developing severe or critical disease compared to the general population.
What about other medications or a #vaccine?
Some medications - alone or in combination - have shown promising results in early testing and are being used for critically ill patients. The same goes for the #plasma of patients who have recovered from COVID-19. Even with an expedited process, a widely available vaccine is unlikely to be distributed until 2021.
I’m not sick - what can I do?
COVID-19 has become so widespread because the virus is easily transmitted and causes no symptoms in many people. To slow the spread and reduce the strain on our healthcare system, my best advice for people with no symptoms is to pretend like they have the virus. Taking precautions like frequent #hand_washing, avoiding unnecessary travel, wearing a #mask when in public, and #social_distancing limit the rate of new patients and, if done for long enough, can lessen the medical and economic impact of the disease.
What is it like in the #hospital?
As of late May, 2020 with most communities starting the initial wave of re-opening, life and energy is returning to hospitals. Elective surgeries are being performed at almost every hospital and some have allowed family members to start visitng patients as well. While the number of critically ill patient in the #ER and #ICU have decreased, as has the need for #ventilators, the efforts by my colleagues in the #ER and #ICU remain very attuned to treating COVID-19 patients and limiting exposure.
How long will this last?
As of early June, we know that the numbers domestically are continuing to increase but have reach a plateau in many communities. Nonetheless, this pandemic is affecting every aspect of our society for the indefinite future. Accepting the “new normal” is vitally important to stay safe and take care of one another.